In India, Covid-19 Vaccines Face A More Urgent Problem Than IPR

That the debate on IP issues has consumed international debate is not surprising. A group of savvy public health activists would like to reform international IP laws and for them the present pandemic presents a golden opportunity to make their case, regardless of whether their proposed solutions will actually solve the shortage of vaccines in the world. The issue of IP has sucked up far too much political oxygen at a time when we should have been discussing the glacial pace of regulatory approvals and poorly-planned procurement of vaccines by the Indian government.

While most developed countries were ready to make upfront payments for the manufacture and stockpile of vaccines that were yet to clear clinical trials, the Indian government was doing almost nothing to purchase the required number of vaccines.

It appears to have been under the impression that the private vaccine industry in India would deliver the required dosages when required without quite understanding that the economics of the vaccine industry depends on bulk purchases by the government.

There is hardly any private market for vaccines and the Indian vaccine industry has always survived on government bulk orders. Without any clarity on regulatory approvals for new vaccines or solid government purchase commitments, the private industry simply did not manufacture the vaccines that could have been saving Indians from a brutal second wave. There’s a chance that may change now.

It would help if the public debate in India spent more time on holding its own government accountable for the shortage of vaccines rather than blame the delay on IP laws.

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